In May this year, a few months after Luciano Spalletti’s beloved Fiat Panda was stolen, Napoli ultras unfurled a defiant banner outside the Diego Maradona Stadium:
“Burn, we’ll give you back the Pandas, just leave. Signature: Thieves”
This extreme faction of tifosi no longer wanted to see the coach in charge of Napoli because the hopes of the title were extinguished.
The “Partenopei” would again be without the Scudetto and their over 30-year wait would continue. Spalletti himself, a veteran in the coaching profession in Serie A, who has never won the championship of his country, would remain without a title.
However, the 63-year-old mentor remained – the sad end of the season after the hopeful start did not discourage him.
He joked that he would accept the offer to get his car back, but only if his music discs in it were also intact. And then it just kept working.
Now those fans who wanted him out of the club are probably at least a little ashamed because Spalletti’s Napoli are among the most impressive teams in all of Europe this new season.
The Neapolitans are not just winning consecutively in the championship and in the Champions League, they are flying on the field. Their success comes with beautiful, fast, high-scoring football, played with spirit and full dedication to the club and the coach.
In Serie A, Napoli is the leader in the standings, without defeat and with the most effective attack in the elite. In the Champions League, there are 4 wins from 4 matches with 17 goals scored.
Averaging over 4 goals per game in the Rich League, this is the highest scoring team in the entire tournament so far.
Napoli looked set to be in a tough Group A, but smashed direct elimination rivals Liverpool and Ajax 4-1 and 6-1 respectively.
How can you not fall in love with such a team?
The rout over Liverpool was significant. He showed that the strength of Napoli is not in the individual qualities of the players, but in the team game – it is obvious that the actions of the players are subordinated to a common idea.
They make efforts for each other, press together and counterattack, but six stay behind the ball and give security to the others.
In other words, victories are the result of proper coaching.
Spalletti has emphasized quick short passing and attacks down the flanks to get the most out of an available squad that has seen key players leave in the summer. Instead of losing some of their power, Napoli have been playing with a whole new energy this campaign.
The return to the Champions League came after a 3-year absence from the tournament and the club prepared with some brilliant selection strikes.
Experienced Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Kalidou Koulibaly left (leading to more grumbling from the fans), but their replacements proved to be real gems.
The electrifying Georgian Hvicha Kvaratskhelia has been making a splash on the left flank and supporters have already nicknamed him Quaradona, comparing him to their perennial Argentinian favourite.
But the selection successes are noticeable in other positions as well.
Korea’s Kim Min-Jae makes Koulibaly’s absence in defense not felt. Midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Angisa was finally bought by Fulham and is still in great form.
All the additions fit Spalletti’s style of play, which he has consistently imposed in his nearly 25-year coaching career. During all this time, his only exit from Italy was for the adventure at Zenit St. Petersburg, where he won his first championship titles.
Spalletti took over the Russians at the end of 2009, when huge money was being thrown around in the Russian Premier League. After winning the title, the coach provided an unforgettable show for the fans by taking off his shirt and waving it above his head to celebrate a waist-deep goal in the Siberian snow.
At Zenit, Spalletti won two Russian titles, as well as the country’s Cup and Super Cup, but then the trophies dried up, conflicts began and he was fired.
The adamant Italian remained true to his style of taking all the money from his contracts, even if he was sacked. “If you give me a 5-year contract and fire me after the third year, I’ll wait until the other two are up and make you pay me every last ruble or euro on the contract,” reads his credo.
Spalletti has since returned to his homeland and enjoyed a second stint at Roma, as well as two years in charge of Inter.
He could have tried out outside Italy much earlier, because already in the first period in Roma there was an offer from Roman Abramovich to take over Chelsea.
However, at that time he still did not speak English and did not feel ready for work in the Premier League. In Serie A, he was not always treated with the necessary respect, despite his indisputable qualities.
When he was appointed for a second time at Roma in January 2016, he was tasked with the unenviable task of satisfying the game-time demands of the club’s aging icon Francesco Totti.
Subsequently, Luciano Spalletti returned Inter to the Champions League for the first time in 7 years, but in the summer of 2019, the new owners of the Nerazzurri decided that they preferred Antonio Conte as coach.
So Spalletti was fired again, soon after he had signed a new 2-year contract.
Luciano Spalletti happily feeding a duck pic.twitter.com/Bzye09Q17F
— Footballers with animals (@ftbllrswanimals) July 28, 2020
Naturally, he took this as another chance to rest and spent the next two years at home with no problem getting away from big time football.
While enjoying his extensive collection of football shirts and looking after his pet duck named Snow White, the coach cemented his image as a maverick in modern sport. And to a person who is not impatient to accept new challenges one after another.
However, it was time to return to the profession and Spalletti accepted the offer from Napoli, a team that still can’t seem to reach its full potential.
Today, some continue to underestimate Spalletti and point out that he did not win titles in any of the top 5 championships. While he was given thankless missions such as battling for influence with Totti at Roma or pulling Inter out of lethargy, he just didn’t seem in the right places to attack at the top.
But perhaps the time has come for Italian football to recognize him as one of the most influential and innovative football coaches of the last 15 years, who has proven in various clubs that he is a capable strategist with an established football philosophy.
Now more and more eyes are on him, but expectations are also growing.
How long will Spalletti be able to maintain Napoli’s winning streak? Will the first title of Diego Maradona’s time at the club finally be taken? Is a major breakthrough in the Champions League possible if current form continues?
Spalletti must show that he has learned his lessons from last season, when the players did not have the strength to maintain the initial pace that they set themselves.
This time, Napoli started even stronger and their football is a feast for the eyes.
And Spalletti may not get a better chance to go all the way to greatness.